Reopening and anniversary celebration scheduled this month
The Arlington Theatre will open its arched mahogany doors May 21 for a three-day anniversary celebration. The event will mark 90 years of this local landmark.
“Movies to world-renowned speakers to the film festival bring people there,” said David Corwin, president of Metropolitan Theatres, which owns the Arlington. “I think a lot of the people in the community have memories of visiting there as a child, and that’s one of the things that is special about the Arlington.”
The theater, located at 1317 State St. in Santa Barbara, was built to withstand fire, designed with concrete instead of wood structures. But its architects didn’t predict a global pandemic.
The 2,018-seat theater has been closed for over a year. Its employees have begun to flip the switches and prepare equipment for a weekend full of movies.
To celebrate this timeless treasure, it’s only right to show beloved classics on the big screen. Management chose “E.T.,” “Ghostbusters” and “Blade Runner: The Final Cut” to play each day May 21-23.
Tickets for each showtime are $5, and popcorn is complimentary.
To open the day May 22, the Santa Barbara Theatre Organ Society with special guest organist Adam Aceto will perform on the Arlington’s theatre organ.
NEXT FOR THE ARLINGTON
The Arlington Theater didn’t get to host the Santa Barbara International Film Festival this year, but the theater’s manager Karen Killingsworth says it’ll likely be back next year.
She also expects that live performances will be back this fall.
When gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he’d open the state June 15, promoters immediately began contacting Ms. Killingsworth.
Under orange-tier standards, the venue can only hold 200 people, less than 10% of its occupancy.
The guidelines allow 50% capacity or 200 people, whichever is fewer people, so the Arlington will feel bare until it can serve a larger audience.
Otherwise, the historic theater looks the same.
“People like the way it is,” Mike Cooley, stage manager, said. “I’m big on if it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it.”
Mr. Cooley, who’s worked at the theater for 35 years (and occassionally helped out when he was a teenager in Santa Barbara) says the lack of modern features hasn’t hurt the theater.
A big-time promoter once told him that even though the Arlington is old, it’s cleaner than many modern buildings.
One of the few major upgrades he’s made to the theater is the addition of the organ, which sits on a hydraulic lift below the stage when not in use.
THE THEATRE ORGAN
The organ is a few years older than the theater. It’s a 1928 Robert-Morton “Wonder Morton,” one of only five ever made.
The organ has nearly 2,000 pipes, hidden behind mission-style structures that make the theater feel like a courtyard.
And, unlike a church organ, it has more than just pipes. There are special effects, like a wave machine that rolls ball bearings around on a metal pan to sound like the ocean.
Theatre organs were made to accompany silent movies (think Charlie Chaplin) and have sound effects movies may need.
Having the organ at the theater shows Metropolitan Theaters’ heart for the Arlington. The corporation owns 17 theaters but none have as much history as the Arlington.
“(Bruce Corwin) wanted a theatre pipe organ in this theater. This is his favorite theater. And he really helped us to facilitate getting one,” Santa Barbara Theatre Organ Society President Bruce Murdock said.
The organ was originally installed in a theater in New Jersey and was transported to Dallas when the theater was scheduled to be torn down (It ended up surviving.). The theatre organ society in Dallas struggled to find a location big enough for the organ’s 7,000 parts.
It was expensive to haul everything back to Santa Barbara, but the largest obstacle was reconstructing and installing the pipes in the alcoves of the Arlington.
One of the organ society’s members offered an empty Wells Fargo location to start assembly. Then, they installed it in the theater, mitering the long pipes to fit the limited space.
It took 37,000 volunteer hours, Mr. Mudock said, but the Arlington got its old-school theatre organ (and the theatre organ society got a magnificent location to perform in, too).
Mr. Murdock is an electrical engineer, so he was able to wire the organ and give it the ability to play from a CD — a modern touch in an antique instrument.
There’s always something to fix on the organ, as it has many pipes and instruments. And with movies playing all day, there’s a limited window of opportunity to make repairs.
“We had unlimited access to the organ, and that’s that’s rare here because they played movies constantly,” George Ferrand, the theatre organ society’s vice president, said. “And the virus, it gave us a chance to do some updating.”
Members of the organ society have enjoyed having the theater to themselves during the pandemic, but they’re accustomed to performing about four times each year.
The 90th anniversary celebration will be the first time any of them played for an audience in over a year.
One of Metropolitan’s other locations, Fairview Theatre at 225 N Fairview Ave. in Goleta, opens this Friday (with less pomp and circumstance).
Mr. Corwin expects a mellow turnout until “A Quiet Place 2” and “Cruella” open May 28. And he sees more exciting flicks on the schedule for summer.
All locations have contactless ticketing, reserved seats and the opportunity to reserve a private showing. Mr. Corwin expects these features to outlast the pandemic.
“I do think there’s some nice amenities that will come sooner because of the pandemic,” he said.
Metropolitan has begun upgrading theaters’ seats to recliners. The change can reduce capacity by up to 60%, so the company is strategically selecting locations based on their layout.
The upgrade will raise prices, but Mr. Corwin said it won’t significantly affect affordability.
“We just hope by it being a better experience and something new, it will result in people going more frequently,” he said.
The Arlington, however, is not in consideration for a change in seating. Its large quantity of seats is a selling point for live events, notably the film festival.
To purchase a ticket for the 90th anniversary reopening, go to metrotheatres.com/santa-barbara/arlington-theatre/showtimes.